THE STREETS OF Stockton echoed with sirens as police officers called out to children, asking them to step outside of their houses.

“Merry Christmas, bring your children out to pick up presents!” an officer announced on the megaphone at 8 a.m.

Stockton Police officers set out in the community on Saturday morning for the 23rd Annual Christmas Toy Project, as Santa Claus brought in Christmas presents for families and children who have been victims of violence. The department gave out toys, bikes, sweaters and food to the families and their neighbors.

Officers and the Marines had been compiling gifts all week, waiting for Saturday, Stockton Chief of Police Stanley McFadden said. It was the chief’s first Christmas Toy Project event.

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“A lot of these families have had trauma, and they still carry that trauma,” he said. “But this gives us opportunity to just bring some joy to them. Some said they wouldn’t have even had a Christmas if we didn’t come.”

Some families, including Marianna Herrera’s, eagerly waited outside their homes as officers arrived with presents.

“We were displaced this year, and we had some family things going on,” Herrera said. “And this brightens up our whole year.”

The face of Herrera’s 6-year-old stepson, Jerry Lee Polizzi, lit up as soon as he saw officer Jeremiah Skaggs bring in a new bike for him.

“He’s so happy, look at him go,” said Marcia Herrera, Polizzi’s step grandmother.

Tears of joy

With more than 1,000 presents, the officers visited nearly 20 families that have been affected by violence, including a couple of families affected by the Stockton serial killer and the family of the student who was murdered on campus at Stagg High School this year.

“My oldest son and I went through domestic violence this year,” said Krystal Smith. “It’s been struggle, mentally, for us and I couldn’t work because of it.”

Smith said that not having a place to stay after escaping the violence and “bouncing back and forth” as a result really took a toll on her family this year.

Cheronika James, a mother of six, burst into tears of joy as she watched her children receive Christmas presents and interact with Santa Claus.

Jumirh Thomas, 8, shouts with joy while looking at his Christmas presents during the 23rd annual Christmas Toy Project in Stockton on Christmas Eve. (Photo by Harika Maddala/Bay City News/Catchlight Local)

“I couldn’t have gotten any Christmas presents for my children this year, and I’m so grateful,” she said.

Chief McFadden was also grateful.

“I’m glad I wore my rain jacket today because there was a lot of tears flowing — but it was tears of happiness,” he said.

“Sirens don’t always mean something bad,” he added. “You know, we came with sirens today, but we bear gifts, and hugs and food, you know, just whatever these families may need.”

Harika Maddala is a photojournalist based in Stockton covering San Joaquin County for Bay City News Foundation and its nonprofit news site Local News Matters. They are a Report for America corps member and a CatchLight Local Fellow.